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Mark Shaw

The Castle Inn, Castle Donnington

Mark shared with us how his dedication to bringing the Castle Inn from rags to riches has led him to this year’s competition.

Instagram: @the_castle_inn

Twitter: @CastleInntweets

Facebook: @thecastleinndonington


How did you get into the licensed trade?

I started working in nightclubs at the age of 18. I did that around the country for about 40 years. It was mainly night clubs so there weren’t many pubs involved really, it was late night venues, but then I left that and stayed within the trade.

I worked in sales for breweries, a couple of different ones, as a sales manager.

So I got to see lots of different venues in my time - some good, some not so good, but it sort of gives you a good background into what you might like to do if you ever decide to open a pub, it gives you a bit of background and things you do and don’t want to do.


Tell us a bit about your venue and why people should visit

We’re a totally food led pub as we’ve got a 36 seater restaurant and 50 seater bar, and we’ve got an outdoor area we have live music in, a garden area that was derelict that we’ve turned into a roof terrace –and private function rooms!

We try to make the place as welcoming as possible. When you come in here you’re coming into my house, you get looked after.


What are your goals for your business?

We’ve hit lots of milestones to where we are now, but what I’m hoping to do for the long term is establish viability and stability of the business so we can put ourselves in a position that in a few years’ time we can look at doing something similar elsewhere -  but have something that’s going to stay solid behind us. Anything we do we try to keep a certain level, a certain standard, for the Castle Inn brand as it were. That way people know that if we’re involved with something, it’s going to be good.

We’re looking at branding our own gin and all sorts of things, just adding to what we do really and make sure we’re here for the long term!


What made you enter LOYA?

Truthfully, it was a bit of peer pressure. People that know me from what I’ve done before in the licensed trade were telling me that I should go for this. I thought ‘why not? It’d be nice to be measured to see how we’re doing.’ We all think we’re doing well until someone comes along who knows more that you.


What has been your experience of the judging process?

It’s been a great process because we’ve had people coming through looking at different things and ideas along the way. And that’s why we entered it really, we wanted a measure. It’s been really nice for people that run pubs and I’ve respected to say to me that I’ve got a story and done well and that I should tell people about it.

What do you see as the key challenges for today’s licensees?

It’s all about maintaining people’s drinking habits, keeping it fresh, as there’s so many other areas they can go spend their money – why would they want to come to you? If you look around at some of the venues that are doing really well, they’re people that are innovate, they’re following trends, they’re looking at what’s going on and trying to second guess what’s coming up.

The key challenge to me is finding what’s new and capitalizing on it.


How do you motivate your team?

With everyone here I try to encourage them, treat them with respect, and we give them direction and training and look at where we can develop them, when they do well we reward them, and if things are not so good we have a discussion about why. We try to put them on the right way.

Without them doing what they do, I wouldn’t be here talking about the Castle – it wouldn’t have happened, so we look after them where we can.

What is your favourite time of day as a licensee and why?

Half past 7 or 8 in the morning, when the cleaners have gone, I’m sat there with my cup of tea and that’s the time I can have a think about what we’re doing and it’s not chaotic.


What could you not do without in your day to day life as a licensee?

A power nap! When you come in the afternoon, between probably half past 3 and 4, I’m not available because I’m asleep somewhere. We live in, so I go upstairs and have 5 minutes or so – you can’t do 8am till 2am without one.


What is your proudest moment as a licensee?

Well this is our first pub, so I’d say my proudest moment really was when we all stood together just before we opened back in February 2000. We’d done a lot of graft, a lot of the hard work by ourselves in the building, laying floors, and to stand there with everybody and look at what we’d created – that was one of my proudest moments ever.

We bought this pub of Punch Taverns and it was derelict, no windows, and we managed to purchase it for the right money and just put our ideas in place and over the last three years we’ve developed it from being closed – to where we are now.

I think we’re running at the moment at three times our original business plan!


How do you ensure excellent customer service every time?

Well my background in Nightclubs was as a quality service manager, and what I took from that was to be constantly monitoring and encouraging staff to be doing things you expect of them but also explaining why you want the standards and the benefits of doing things right. From a managerial point of view, I’ve got two deputy managers, and they’re encouraged to monitor and encourage – you need to have set standards, and they pretty much know what my standards are now and it’s just keeping those standards there.


What’s the best part of the job you do?

I think it’s people, I’m sure it’s cliché but looking around when you walk about the place and just watching when you’re busy and the band is on, the rooms are full, it gives you a real buzz. To look around and think ‘yeah, we did this,’ we took the place from a shell and now it’s full of this life.


What advice would you give to someone starting out as a licensee?

In this trade there’s always something you can be learning or doing better.

And you’ve got to move with the times, keep your offer fresh, it’s no good to sit back and think well we’ve got a really busy pub because one day you won’t have a really busy pub, they will have found somewhere new.

I would tell them to seriously do their homework. Have a serious look at what they want, what they think a pub is about or a licensee position is about, and ask people that are in the trade! I was in it, we were working in the licensed trade from a sales point of view so I got to see lots of different licensees, what they did, what they didn’t do, and that’s what formulated my ideas and I knew what I was going into. Go work a pub, if you’ve got a friendly landlord go work with him for a few weeks!

Just to let yourself know what you’re in for.


What has been your biggest lesson learned in business?

It’s been about the details, that all the little things make a difference about the big stuff. If you get the little things right, the details right, the big stuff becomes easy. One thing licensee’s told me was that it was getting key members of staff, making sure you’re that you’re all pulling the same weight, that was important – getting good committed people with you.


What qualities do you think have got you to this final stage in LOYA?

We’re all very open, honest, we look after people, and what’s got us to this stage is that we know what we’re after and we’re pushing toward it. We spend a lot of time on our standards, and being open and honest and enjoying yourself comes across to your customers and staff, and that probably has got us here.


What do you think winning LOYA would do for you and your business?

It would be a good indication really of ‘why,’ why we’re doing this business and it would be enormous lift and motivator for all of us. To get a good indication from your peers to say that you’re actually doing alright would give us a massive lift. We’ve had so many wellwishers on Facebook and social media so that’s been really positive, and that’s given all the staff a lift.

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